Robots compete in Escanaba

ESCANABA – Escanaba Area Public Schools was abuzz Friday during the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Robotics District Event.

Thirty-six teams from around Michigan are in town this weekend for the competition.

This is the first year a FIRST Robotics event has been hosted in the Upper Peninsula, according to Marie Young, event coordinator and team leader of the Escanaba Robomos robotics team.

“It’s going really well,” she said during the event Friday afternoon. “We have 36 teams here and having it here gave U.P. teams an opportunity to stay close to home.”

Young said approximately 1,000 people were expected during the event.

Though the competition itself officially began Friday, teams arrived the day prior to the event to set up their own personal robot pit area.

Each team must pass inspection to ensure their robot is in compliance with FIRST rules and regulations.

The first day and a half of the event focuses on qualification rounds where three robotics teams compete in an alliance against another three-team alliance. The game featured in this year’s competition is called Aerial Assist, where teams work together as allies throwing yoga balls into goals.

Wins and losses from the qualification rounds are factored together to help rank teams.

Once the qualification rounds are finished, only 24 teams will advance to the elimination rounds where the top eight ranked teams are seeded and get to choose two other alliance partners to join them. This time, however, the alliances are set for the remainder of their competition unlike the qualification matches.

Once a team competes in two district events, rankings determine the top teams across the state. Only 60 teams in Michigan move to the state competition.

Young said the FIRST program is a great way for students to get some hands-on experience and work with local engineers and businesses, opening their eyes to possible career paths in engineering, science, and technology.

“There’s $19 million worth of FIRST scholarships available for FIRST students and this money is an incentive of course, but colleges and universities are also now looking for people who have been in FIRST before,” she said.

Young has personally heard many students from Escanaba say they want to get involved in the robotics team next year.

Emma Shandonay, a senior at Gladstone High School has been with Gladstone’s Brave Bots team for two years and really enjoys the competitions.

“It’s actually really exciting,” she said Friday. “You get nervous when you lose, you get excited when you win. It’s crazy.”

In addition to several local teams participating in the event like Escanaba or Gladstone, many schools from downstate came up to Escanaba for the two-day competition. Brittany Cole and her team traveled from downstate Johannesburg High School.

Her robotics team calls themselves Army of Sum, meant to emphasize team work.

“It’s like any other team, but we’re more like a family than a team,” she said. “We all have to work together to make this happen and it’s just a lot of teamwork. It feels really good to be a part of that.”

Though it is not the first year for many of the teams competing in FIRST Robotics, the event ultimately allows the community and students to witness firsthand what a robotics event is like.

“The complete real awareness only happens when you’re at an event and you really do see what they build, how proud they are of what they’ve built, all the excitement around it,” said Young. “We love that we were able to bring it to Escanaba so that more kids could see it.”

The FIRST Robotics competition continues today in the Escanaba High School Gymnasium with opening ceremonies beginning at 9 a.m. and matches starting at 9:30. The event is free and open to the public.